UPDATE1: Stability of ailing Westinghouse parent Toshiba is vital: U.S.

JAPAN NOW

U.S. Cabinet members told Japanese industry minister Hiroshige Seko on Thursday that the United States regards the fiscal stability of Toshiba Corp., the ailing parent company of Westinghouse Electric Co., as extremely important.

Speaking to reporters after separate talks with Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in Washington, Seko said he agreed with them to share information about developments involving Toshiba and its troubled U.S. nuclear affiliate.

Seko met the secretaries two days after Toshiba said a filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection by Westinghouse is an option, and that it will sell a majority of shares in the U.S. unit in fiscal 2017 starting in April.

Neither Perry nor Ross mentioned a possible Chapter 11 filing by Westinghouse, he said.

Seko, the minister of economy, trade and industry, had a separate meeting Thursday with Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council.

Seko said he told Ross and Cohn that even after the United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation free trade agreement, in late January, Japan has continued efforts to "create free, fair and high-standard trade rules in the Asia-Pacific region."

Seko said he discussed with them a high-level economic dialogue the two governments are planning to start in April. But he did not provide details.

Asked if the two sides touched on a bilateral trade deal, Seko declined to comment, saying only that the issue will be addressed in the dialogue to be led by Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

Earlier this month, Ross expressed eagerness to start negotiations with Japan at an early date for a Japan-U.S. FTA, saying Washington considers it a "very high priority" to forge such a deal with Japan.

After pulling the United States out of the TPP, U.S. President Donald Trump has been calling for bilateral trade deals with major trading partners including Japan that he believes benefit American workers and industry in line with his "America First" agenda.

In a separate meeting, Seko and Perry agreed to promote cooperation on energy including liquefied natural gas, nuclear power, renewable energy, coal-fired thermal power, as well as carbon dioxide capture and storage, or CCS, according to the Japanese minister.

The planned economic dialogue will cover trade and macroeconomic policy as well as infrastructure and energy projects. Officials do not rule out the possibility of exploring a Japan-U.S. FTA that would cover nearly 30 percent of the world economy.

==Kyodo

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